Species III

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Ahh SPECIES, the little engine that couldn't. The first film was heavily hyped by MGM in their forty-seventh bid to become relevant again. It was allright. It had some good scares, a little sex and a problematic conclusion that could potentially be improved upon in later installments. I guess it was a sign of things to come when my friend and I left the theatre, noting that the film was pretty good, only to be immediately confronted with the shattered windows of my friend's car, windows that gave access to the now missing belongings in the back seat. It was a sign that things would never be quite right with the SPECIES franchise again.

SPECIES II followed in 1998 and MGM dropped the ball completely. It was one of the biggest blunders ever to befall a horror franchise, tragic in the sense that the series was pretty much doomed before it even had a chance to blossom. Peter Medak, who had directed a number of fascinating independent films (THE KRAYS, LET HIM HAVE IT, ROMEO IS BLEEDING), seemed completely out of sorts behind the camera. The entire film looked like it had been meddled with from the beginning. Whether that is actually the case, I don't know, but SPECIES II was horrible by anyone's barometer.

Now comes SPECIES III and the great white hope of MGM in summer 1995 has become a direct to video sequel in mid-2004. By its very origins, it was sure to be a smaller film at least. But who knows, maybe its a chance to return to the old horror roots and pull a winner out of the trash. No such luck. SPECIES III is bad. I didn't want to think it could be worse than the second installment, but it is for one very simple reason. Even at its worst, SPECIES II was never boring, but this latest installment certainly is.

The third installment seems to take place very soon after the second film ended. A military van is transporting the wounded Eve (Natasha Henstridge's good guy alien from SPECIES II) to a military hospital. Unfortunately, there is another creature in the back who promptly kills the passenger and strangles Eve. Before she breathes her last, Eve manages to give birth to a baby girl, a half-breed of alien and human DNA. The driver of the vehicle bundles up the kid and escapes through the forest.

How the kid on the back of the truck is never explained, nor are his actions (which will change later) are why he doesn't pursue the driver. It's just the first in a succession of events that will have even the most non-demanding viewers scratching their heads.

But wait, doesn't Natasha Henstridge show up again? Well, the film does list her as having a "Special Appearance" but I don't think you can really call it "special." What I described, occurring mere seconds after the opening credits, is the extent of Henstridge's participation in the film. She does not get a single line of dialogue. Hell, she isn't even allowed to stand up! Here, she is a prop and a prop only. In the DVD extras, Henstridge describes her involvement, saying "They said 'We're doing SPECIES III. You owe us. Get your ass over here.'" I think she was kidding, but I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't. If you thought her embarrassed appearance in THE WHOLE TEN YARDS was a contractual obligation, you 'aint seen nothing yet. A sorry and disrespectful dismissal of the individual who basically made the first two films. Don't worry, Nat, I still love you and GHOSTS OF MARS and I don't care who knows about it.

The next time we see the driver, he is Dr. Abbot (Robert Knepper), a college professor at an unnamed university. He is immediately at odds with one of his students, Dean (Robin Dunne - AMERICAN PSYCHO II, THE SKULLS II, CRUEL INTENTIONS 2, yes he officially has a quartet of shitty sequels). Dr. Abbot laments the death of smallpox and calls deadly viruses "beautiful." When Dean challenges him, he screams "Who are you decides which species lives and which does not?" It's clear to pretty much everyone that Abbot is absolutely bonkers. But for some reason, no one points this out. He is seen as being very strict when in actuality, he is a second-rate mad scientist. How mad? Well, he's caring for the little alien kid who takes her name "Sara" from a Sara Lee cake. What would anonymous film characters do without product placement anyway?

Dr. Abbot is surprised by an unexpected visitor who disintegrates and explodes in his office. He was one of the pure aliens who have been living in secret. Turns out the invasion didn't go so well as they are all dying off from environmental allergies, or as we at Horror Express call it, "H.G. Welles Syndrome." Abbot quickly recruits the desperate Dean in his research. While Sara is half-human, half-alien, Abbot wants to create a pure alien species that can exist freely on planet earth. Just because he can. The two begin their experiments, knowing that more aliens will be on the way.

Meanwhile, Sara has grown up into hot babe, Sunny Mabrey. Actually, she hatches from the cocoon dripping with slime, but in a matter of seconds quickly dries herself, does her hair and mysteriously applies makeup perfectly - all off camera of course. So, Sara is experiencing life. Well, not a lot of it, but enough to give her screen time on a meager budget. She struts around the house, often buck naked. She exits the house regularly where she always seems to show up at the same intersection. If I were a cynic, I would suggest that it was the only open location they were able to film at, but that... couldn't... be...

Before I go through the litany of faults with SPECIES III, I will say that it delivers one of the standbys of previous installments. There is quite a bit of gore and (at least in the unrated version) quite a bit of nudity as well. I'm sure that will be enough to distract some viewers for a few seconds at a time, but if you need anything more you're out of luck.

What's amazing is the sheer number of logistical questions that the film expects us to simply dismiss. How is Dr. Abbot a military escort one day and a college professor just a few days later? The timeline could only be a few days because the aliens are said to mature rapidly. Even Abbot makes a comment to the child Sara saying she "grows six inches a day." So how did all of this happen? Was he working for the military? Did he sneak in? If so, how did he sneak in? How did he know where and when to strike (this is coming back from the unexpected conclusion of the second film remember)? How did the military fail to track him down? Moreover, how does Abbot continue to have access to the most secret project in government history on his personal computer? Dude, I should've gotten a Dell.

Also, there are the other aliens. Used to be the aliens would sniff each other out through a combination of pheromones and instinct. But one of them is tracked when she makes her own website, posting pornographic pictures of herself and asking for scientific data. So while the aliens are ignorant to the world around us, they discover online dating in record time. The government may have failed to track down a missing alien baby in the forest, but they have no trouble spotting trouble on the website. I guess the Feds have nothing better to do than lurk in porno chat rooms, looking for aliens out to get laid.

Don't worry though, because while the aliens seem smart at anything that would require them to fill in one of the numerous plot holes (internet know-how, fashion sense, driving a sports car, etc.), they seem like knuckle-draggers when it comes to anything else. Hard to take an alien invasion seriously when the invaders posses the intelligence of a Teletubbie. To top it off, none of the aliens seem to have any personality whatsoever. When Henstridge played Sil in SPECIES and then Eve in SPECIES II, she was no Rhodes scholar. But she at least had some spark beyond her incredible body. These bimbos are blank slates, dumb as a post with the charisma to match. It's one of the most ill-conceived galactic takeovers I've seen.

Actually, that isn't completely true. The aliens, male and female, do have one common characteristic - that of an insufferable spoiled brat. Really, when did the aliens get so bitchy? They are insulting, demanding and throw temper tantrums. They strut around with no concern for themselves or others and stomp their feet when they don't get what they want. All the aliens in SPECIES III know how to do is fuck and complain. If Paris Hilton is serious about becoming an actress, this is the part she was born to play.

Not that humans come off looking any better. In the limited scope of SPECIES III's worldview, no one is really worth rooting for. All men, with the exception of the squeaky clean Dean, are chauvinist pigs prone to rape any attractive woman at the drop of a hat. Nobody in this film is really interesting or virtuous. Ben Ripley's script seems so out of touch with human behavior that it tries to paint the egocentric mad scientist as a sympathetic character, simply because it doesn't have many other options. As as leads go, Robin Dunne is no Michael Madsen. I refuse to believe that what two government task forces could not accomplish in the two big-budget SPECIES films is an easy task for some college dweeb who looks like the pudgy-faced kid on DAWSON'S CREEK.

The decision to shoot on high-definition video is an interesting but unsuccessful one. While I typically applaud the advent of digital filmmaking simply for the way it encourages independent production, the picture here is ugly as can be. Not possessing the resolution of film, all the blacks come off as pale grays. This makes the whole film look foggy. A talented filmmaker could have found a way around this, but director Brad Turner is not that person. Turner has spent the last twenty years directing for television and it shows. His direction is as bland as the script. There is nothing visually arresting about the film unless someone is naked or having their brains sucked out.

SPECIES III is dead on arrival. Even though the film is longer than previous installments, it just seems like nobody even tried to inject life into the film. It's a film that manages to be insultingly moronic at continuously dull at the same time. If the franchise was in trouble with SPECIES II, it is officially dead with SPECIES III. Even the curious should pass this one by. As for the goodies, rent an ALIEN porn parody, you'll feel better.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis